Bully sticks for dogs seem to be all the rage, but did you know what they really are? Beef or steer pizzle (penis)! So many people have no idea, and while it might be something that grosses you out, your dog certainly won’t complain. So maybe you’re thinking, why would you want to buy something like this? What are the benefits for your dog? And are there any risks?
In this article, we will explore both the benefits and the controversies of this unusual treat, so you can make an informed decision whether it’s a good choice for your dog.
2018: A Major recall
In 2018, the FDA announced a major recall of thousands of bully sticks due to contamination with Salmonella. But Salmonella is not the only bacteria which has been associated with bully sticks in the past. A study in 2013 showed out of 26 bully sticks, three were contaminated, each with a different type of bacteria; Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Escherichia coli. Those are some dangerous pathogens!
When a pizzle stick becomes small enough to swallow whole, it becomes a hazard. If it reaches the stomach, it shouldn’t cause a problem, as they are fully digestible. However, prior to the stomach it can become lodged in the throat, which can cause serious choking incidents. Therefore, when it becomes small, take the last bit away.
Bully sticks are made up mainly of protein, so if your dog suffers with beef allergies, it will certainly cause adverse effects.
In addition to these risks, since bully sticks are very high in calories, they should not be given to dogs who are overweight.
Finally, our survey found that 50% of dog owners underestimated the number of calories in bully sticks. Our analysis of these treats showed that they contain between 9-22 calories per inch, which means than an average 6-inch bully stick is nearly 100 calories! Since over half of all dogs in the US are overweight, it’s important for owners to factor in calories from treats and table food, in addition to those coming from dog food. For healthier treat options, check out our post on safe and healthy treats for your pet.
I have always been surprised when talking to clients and even other veterinarians that many have no idea what bully sticks really are. That’s one of the reasons my colleagues and I wanted to conduct a study on these popular treats. Nearly 800 dog owners completed our online survey, and the results emphasize the confusion and misconceptions owners have about pet food and treats. In addition to many not knowing what bully sticks are, 71% of people feeding bully sticks to their dogs said they avoided pet foods containing by-products, with most not being able to correctly identify what by-products really are.
Do you feed bully sticks (also known as pizzle sticks) to your dog? If you do, you’re like 23% of dog owners in a survey we conducted. And while this study completed several years ago, these treats don’t seem to be any less popular now. But do you know what bully sticks are? A surprising number of owners (almost 50% in our survey) did not. Bully sticks are, in fact, bull or steer penises.
This post provides a summary of our article: Freeman LM, Janecko N, Weese JS. Nutritional and microbial analysis of bully sticks and survey of opinions about pet treats. Canadian Veterinary Journal. 2013; 54: 50-54.
Even if you can get past the issue of feeding your dog an uncooked, dried penis of a bull or steer as a treat, there are more potential problems with bully sticks. One is that they may be contaminated with bacteria. We tested 26 bully sticks for bacteria and found that one was contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics; one was contaminated with Clostridium difficile; and seven were contaminated with Escherichia coli (including one antibiotic-resistant sample). This certainly doesn’t prove that all bully sticks are contaminated but does emphasize the importance of washing your hands after touching these treats, as you should with any raw meat or raw meat diets. People at high risk (very young, elderly, pregnant, or immunocompromised individuals) should avoid all contact with raw animal-based treats and raw meat diets.
Oral Health Benefits of Bull Pizzles
One of the main benefits that attract pet parents to bully sticks are the oral health benefits. Bully sticks are pretty tough, and will give even strong chewing dogs a good 30 minutes of chewing time. Smaller dogs may even get a few hours or days out of a bully stick. All that chewing is great for teeth, due to the mechanical abrasion which helps remove tartar.
Are bully sticks making my dog fat?
A 6-inch bully stick can contain up to 130 calories, or 22 calories per inch, depending on the thickness of the stick. You need to take this number into account when determining your dog’s ideal caloric intake.
Can I give my dog a bully stick every day?
Are bully sticks unhealthy for dogs?
Bully sticks aren’t just a safe treat for dogs, but offer a variety of health benefits, and give your dog something to chew. Bully sticks are easily digestible, unlike some other chews or treats. The beef hide in rawhide, for example, can be difficult to digest for some dogs.
Does a bully stick replace a meal?